One of the most critical questions in life is what happens when we die? There are may things I don't know, but a few I do.
When my dear friend Martha's mom passed away I moved a few things around on my schedule so I could show up for the visitation and funeral (funny how those “critical” things that “can't be moved” really can when it counts). I went to the events because I wanted to support Martha, to be present and hold space for her mourning, but I went for another reason too-- I went so I could ensure Marge lived on.
Over the course of those two days of events, we talked about Marge, about our times with her and her time in the world. Marge was quick witted, endlessly loving, fiercely strong, and had a deep servant's heart. She raised four children, all of whom share her love of laughter, her sense of philanthropy, and her thirst to see the world. During those days, I heard stories I'd never heard about Marge before, especially as each of her children took their turn at the podium to eulogize this great life.
There were incredible parenting stories of serving undercooked eggs to a hungover teenaged son rather than lecturing him on the effects of alcohol, of setting the bar for staying home from school into a single sound byte: are there bones sticking out or blood gushing? No? You're headed to school then. Stories of little bits of newspaper saved for decades and stuck above her desk on long-ago yellowed tape reminding her, and everyone who visited her home, that we are here to give to and love one another.
I sat through the funeral and vowed to allow Marge's spirit and her lessons to live through me. To parent with a little more humor. To find ways to help my kids find their passions for giving back. To define this bunch of folks we call family into a tribe that knows they can always rely on having fun together.
I realized the reason I really need to go to the funerals of those I love; I need to go to ensure that they live on through me and in me. There are many theories and beliefs about the afterlife, but there is one thing I know to be true: Marge is alive in my parenting, my dear friend Carrie is alive for me in my friendships, practical jokes, and motherhood, my paternal grandmother lives in my determination and athleticism, my maternal grandmother in my desire to be kind to all I meet and build a lifelong romance... these are the saints of my lifetime, shaping me into a better spirit, living on through me.
I will keep going to funerals for these tremendous people I'm blessed to know. I will move mountains in my schedule to get there because it is critical that we take that time-- to mourn, to process what they have taught us, and to let those lessons settle deep into our hearts so we can keep passing them on.
I'll leave you with Marge's lessons to me, and I'd love to hear from you about how someone special might be with you in new ways this holiday season.
Marge Shedd's lessons to me:
1. Laugh with your children. Laugh at them, too. Life is far too difficult to take ourselves so seriously.
2. Read voraciously. it makes you a great conversationalist and those little details from what you're learning will spring up, even when you can't remember other things.
3. When you're not reading, you may as well knit. It's a great way to produce a hug within a sweater that will envelop your loved ones long after you're gone.
4. Friends are our lifelines and the historians of our lives. Pick up the phone and call one. Go to a Mudhens game with your childhood buddy. Write a handwritten note. The time you spend will be an investment into your own bank account of life. Husbands may come and go, but a girlfriend is forever.
5. Stay active. It will allow you to run (or walk) that 5k your kids signed you up for long after you turned 80. You may roll your eyes at their insanity, but be grateful they didn't make you run the full marathon with them the next day.
6. Stop worrying so much about your sugars and your waistline-- the ice cream is totally worth it!
7. When you live a life of finding simple joys, you can replace your old standbys with new ones. Joy is a habit. When we no longer have the attention span to read or knit, there are birds to watch and clouds to cause wonder and awe.
8. When the deck of life delivers you a disease that will take your memories and disorient you, pray you have kids like she did. They will keep you oriented, share your moments of humor with others, and be your touchstones to a life you may barely remember, but somehow still know it was a really good time.